Military equipment of Bulgaria on the Balkan and Russian fronts (1941–1945)
BULGARIA, (until 1946) Carstvo Bylgarija, Tsardom of Bulgaria.
Population: 6 319 000 (in 1938). Borders with (in 1945) Romania, Jugoslavia, Greece, and Turkey. It also has access to the Black Sea (from 1941 until 1945 it also had access to the Aegean Sea).
Area: 103 100 squared kilometers (in 1938), 110 927 squared kilometers (in 1945).
Overview: Just prior to and during the early years of Second World War, the monarchist-fascist regime of Tsar Boris the IIIrd and the governments of Kioseivanov and especially of B. Filov (1940-1944) carried-out policies friendly to Nazi Germany; consequently, these policies led to a military alliance with Third Reich and resulted in reducing Bulgaria to a status of a Hitlerite dependency. Despite of an advantagous to Bulgaria non-aggression treaty with members of the Balkan Pact (signed on 31/07/1938 in Saloniki, Greece), which resulted in liquidation of the negative consequences of the First World War, Bulgaria rejected the offers of co-operation from other Balkan states and refused to co-operate with the western countries. The main reason for these pro-German tendencies in Bulgarian foreign policy was the desire to regain the lands lost by Bulgaria after the First World War. At the beginning of the Second World War Bulgaria maintained neutrality. On the basis of a treaty signed with Romania (on 07/09/1940) in the Romanian city of Craiova, Bulgaria regained from Romania Southern Dobrudza, largely thanks to the backing of Nazi Germany. On 01/03/1941 Bulgaria acceded to the Axis Tri-Partite Treaty, according to which Bulgaria permitted the use of its naval facilities, air bases, and rail lines by the German armed forces. German forces entered the country on 02/03/1941, and used it as a staging base for their invasions of Jugoslavia and Greece. In April of 1941 Bulgaria was awarded almost entire Jugoslav Macedonia, as well as Aegean and Vardarian Thrace and extreme south-eastern section of Serbia. Bulgaria also co-participated in the occupation of the remainder of Serbia (until September of 1944), while some Bulgarian units were dispatched to Bosnia-Hercegovina for anti-partisan operations. In Macedonia a brutal policy of complete Bulgarization was constantly implemented. On 13/12/1941 Bulgaria declared war on U.S. and U.K. (Great Britain declared war on the Tsardom on 28/12/1941, and United States not until 18/07/1942). In spite of intense pressure by the Axis, the Bulgarian government refused to commit its troops against Soviet Union, and even allowed Soviet embassy to operate for the entire duration of the conflict (it was the only Axis country to do so).
On 24/06/1941, immediately following the Axis invasion of Soviet Union, the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Workers' Party appointed central and district military commissions with the aim of organizing and directing the partisan movement against the country's regime and the Hitlerite occupation forces. On 26/06/1941, in Upper Dzumaya (the Blagojevgrad district) the First Bulgarian Partisan Detachment was formed under the command of N. Parapumov. By the end of 1941, few more partisan groups and companies were formed; these units began to conduct diversional-sabotage operations. On 17/06/1942, under the initiative of G. Dimitrov, the Fatherland Front was founded and it went on to play a major role in the development of the movement for liberation. The program of the Fatherland Front stipulated the severance of relations with the Third Reich and other Axis states, the initiation of co-operation with Soviet Union and democratic countries, the abolition of Bulgaria's monarchist-fascist regime, and the proclamation of popular-democratic rule.
The development of the partisan movement was facilitated by the victory of the Red Army at Stalingrad and the successes of the Army of National Liberation in Jugoslavia. In spring of 1943, in order to make the management of the partisan movement more efficient and centralized, the country was divided into 12 partisan operational zones and a Partisan General Staff was created. Since June of 1941 until late 1943, the partisan forces in Bulgaria executed around 2 200 acts of sabotage and diversional-combat actions. The monarchist-fascist regime, attempting to destroy the partisan movement, organized numerous police-military operations and pacificational actions. One of the biggest such operations took place in the early months of 1944. Despite heavy losses inflicted on the partisans (mainly in the Rhodopes), the liberation movement continued to expand.
In the summer of 1944, as a result of Soviet victories and the nearing of the Red Army to Bulgaria's borders, the leaders of the nation's reactionary government began secret negotiations with Great Britain and United States in Cairo and Ankara. Simultaneously on 26/08/1944 the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Workers' Party issued a directive that dealt with the preparation for an armed uprising. On 02/09/1944, as a consequence of a Soviet ultimatum concerning the presence of German troops in Bulgaria, the government of Bagrajanov collapsed; subsequently, on 05/09/1944 Soviet Union declared war on the Tsardom. On 09/09/1944 an armed uprising broke-out in Sofia; the government was taken-over by the Fatherland Front, which established the first popular-democratic government of K. Georgijev. On 10/09/1944 Bulgaria declared war on Germany and took an active part in the war's last phases, in the operations that resulted in liberation of Jugoslavia, Hungary, and Austria (Bulgaria signed a formal armstice with the countries of the Anti-Axis Coalition on 28/10/1944).
Between 1941 and 1944, as many as 9 150 Bulgarian partisans and over 20 000 members of the underground resistance were killed. Some 31 540 people were sent to concentration camps or "black battalions" as a punishment for participation in the liberation movement. Since the beginning of 1942 until 09/09/1944, some 60 345 Bulgarian patriots were arrested, 12 461 of whom were sentenced to death. During pacificational actions punitive expeditions burned 2 139 buildings.
On 15/09/1946 Bulgaria was proclaimed a people's republic ( Narodna Republika Bylgarija - People's Republic of Bulgaria). The new republic signed on 10/02/1947 a peace treaty with former members of the Anti-Axis Coalition. In December of 1955 it became a member of U.N.
Armed Forces: In defiance of the Peace Treaty of Neuilly, after 1934 the Bulgarian army was enlarged to four armies and eight infantry divisions (this approximately amounted to 40 infantry regiments, 19 artillery regiments, and 10 cavalry regiments). These Bulgarian "armies" were not really armies, but were corps-sized units. The army's numerical strength stood at 103 000 personnel. Military aviation, despite of the prohibitions imposed by the treaty, was equipped with some 80 combat aircraft and was organized into seven air wings (three reconnaissance, three fighter, and one bomber). After the country obtained the right to unlimited armaments on the basis of the Treaty of Saloniki (signed on 31/07/1938), by the end of 1940 Bulgaria had around 300 combat aircraft, 10 seaplanes, nine military airfields, two naval air bases, and two aircraft manufacturing facilities. Most planes were of Italian, Czechoslovak, and Polish origin.
In spring of 1941, the mobilized Bulgarian armed forces consisted of 16 infantry divisions, two cavalry divisions, one motorized brigade, seven air regiments, as well as of special and service units. Bulgarian navy (still in the embryonic stage of development) was equipped with four old torpedo-boats, two motor torpedo boats, and two training sailing-ships, with a total displacement of 1 348 tonnes. Collectively the armed forces had 230 000 soldiers. A portion of the armed forces participated in the invasion and occupation of Jugoslavia and Greece, engaging there in anti-partisan operations and committing atrocities on the local population. A Bulgarian contingent was even dispatched to Bosnia-Hercegovina to assist the Croat government of A. Pavelic in the war against partisans (for instance two Bulgarian army regiments fought in the bloody Battle of Sutjeska). After most of Jugoslav Macedonia was incorporated to Bulgaria in 1941, its menpower resources were used to form the Bulgarian 5-th Army. After the formation of the 5-th Army (during the second half of 1941) was completed, the total number of the army's tactical units (both cadre and reserve) was increased to 21 infantry divisions, one armoured brigade, two independent cavalry brigades, and two brigades of border guards. In the meantime, the air force received some German and French-made planes.
Since June of 1941, a resistance movement has been developing in Bulgaria. This resistance was led and directed by the outlawed Bulgarian Workers' Party. Since 26/06/1941 the First Bulgarian Partisan Detachment began to operate in Upper Dzumaya, a second partisan detachment appeared shortly afterwards in the Rila Mountains, still later came the "Anton Ivanov" Partisan Detachment. 1942 Saw a rapid growth of the partisan forces; by the end of this year some 520 sabotage and diversional actions were carried out. In the spring of 1943, the Bulgarian partisan forces were re-organized; the Army of National Liberation was created. The country was divided into 12 partisan operational zones under uniform command. In 1943 alone 667 Tsarish soldiers and officers went-over to the Bulgarian partisans. Bulgarian partisan units were also founded on the territories of Jugoslavia and Greece. In mid-1944 the Bulgarian partisan forces were organized into one division, 12 brigades, and 70 detachments whose collective numerical strength stood at ~20 000 partisans, in addition to 10 000 fighters of diversional groups, and ~20 000 members of the resistance movement. The Bulgarian partisan forces played a pivotal role in the armed uprising that swept across the country in early September of that year.
On 14/09/1944 the Fatherland Front (after it won control over the country) established the guard, from which the first guard units were formed: the First Infantry Division, and the First Infantry Regiment. Moreover, units and sub-units of the guards were incorporated into all regular Bulgarian armies, divisions, brigades, regiments, and battalions.
Under the cover of the Bulgarian army units stationed along the Jugoslav-Bulgarian border, a mobilization of the armed forces took place between 19 and 20 September of 1944; the size of the armed forces increased to 450 000 troops (including 40 000 volunteers), or as much as 7% of the country's total population; active servicemen numbered 265 000. The mobilized units consisted of 16 infantry divisions, one cavalry division, two cavalry brigades, one armoured brigade, and two brigades of border guards. After 09/09/1944 the armed forces were purged of monarchist-fascist elements. The German units present in Bulgaria were also liquidated. Furthermore, the new popular-democratic government ordered the Bulgarian occupation forces in Serbia to start disarming their German counterparts; consequently, the Bulgarian occupation forces in Serbia, Macedonia, and northern Greece took up arms against the Germans and their Albanian and Greek collaborators. Meanwhile, most of the Bulgarian forces (the 1-st, 2-nd, and 4-th Armies - nine infantry divisions, one cavalry division, one armoured brigade - altogether 270 000 personnel) were dispatched against the German forces that were retreating across Macedonia and southern Serbia in the direction of Bosnia. Since 17/09/1944 these Bulgarian armies participated in the operations in the valleys of Vardar and Morava, liberating the Serbian and Macedonian towns and cities of Nis, Podujevo, Stracin, Kumanovo, and Skopje. The Bulgarian air force directly supported the efforts of its own army; the detached Bulgarian air division of 124 planes, as well as two reconnaissance flights (14 planes), supported the ground forces (primarily the 1-st Army) on the Macedonian front. Between 09/09 and 02/12 of 1944, the Bulgarian air force conducted around 3 014 plane-sorties over the enemy front-lines and its rear areas; it lost in the process 18 pilots and 23 planes. The air force was too small to sufficiently support its ground forces, therefore, it was reinforced with the Soviet 189-th Air Assault Division and the Soviet 288-th Fighter Division. The Bulgarian navy also participated in engagements against the Germans, principally the Danube Flotilla. By the end of 1944, when the war theatre moved to the middle Danube region, a new Bulgarian 1-st Army was organized (composition: two corps, six infantry divisions, and other lesser army units - altogether ~100 000 soldiers). Since late December of 1944, the new 1-st Army fought in the area of Srem; subsequently, it moved into south-western Hungary and occupied defensive positions on the left bank of the Drava river, facing enemy forces to the south of the river (in Croatia). In March of 1945 it was heavily engaged against the German 2-nd Panzer Army, later it advanced westwards and participated in the liberation of eastern Slovenia; eventually its march ended in southern Austria in early May. Some 31 360 Bulgarian troops were either killed or wounded in the battles against the Axis.